Is The Apple Tablet The Future of Print Media? Multimedia? Everything?

Posted on Dec 24, 2009 in Apple, Emerging Technology | No Comments

As a gadget junkie, my primary interest has always been emerging technologies. Somehow, I’ve always had the room on my credit cards to support my habit, and the mentors to help foster it.

The forthcoming Apple Tablet has always been something of much interest to me. I’ve been following its “development” for the better part of this year, eagerly anticipating any news of its release. As we draw closer to its expected January unveiling, I’m beginning to wonder what exactly we can come to expect out of Cupertino?

I spend too much money on Apple products these days. And after buying an iPhone 3GS and 27-inch iMac this year alone, it’s getting hard to justify the estimated cost (about $800) of an Apple Tablet next Spring. I know I’m lying to myself about it, and will likely own one at release, but I like to pretend I can exercise free will.

But the question for the ages is if it’s just going to be an oversized iPod Touch?

I’m scared of getting caught up in the early adopter craze and snatching one up without justification. What void is the Tablet going to fill that my iPhone, MacBook, and iMac don’t already?

And then I think of something I read in an article: There’s a good chance I simply can’t see the future as clearly as Steve Jobs can. The man is a visionary, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. He’s a thought leader among thought leaders. And before the iPhone, I had no idea the things it can do were even possible. He reshaped the wireless telecom industry with one device. And being that after many years of stop-start attempts, he’s “extremely happy with the new tablet,” I would imagine that wherever it stands, it’s got to be awesome.

As we get closer, the picture is becoming clearer. It’s hard to tell exactly what kinds of multitouch gestures and interactive experiences we can expect to see come from the Tablet. But a recent Popular Science demo out of BERG and Bonnier R&D, dubbed Mag+, explores the possibilities of an interactive magazine, and gets me hot and bothered for the future.

Two other notable demos were created for Wired magazine, and Sports Illustrated. The Sports Illustrated demo was actually done by my old employer, The Wonderfactory. But something I read on Gizmodo brought up a good point:

“I’m sorry, Time Inc. and Condé Nast and Murdochs of the world, but magazines are not dying because they are printed on paper. They are going under because many other factors. Here are some of them: Reduced attention spans, reader’s demand for instant satisfaction, and a general change in visual culture and codes that have rendered the page concept obsolete in favor of more anarchic, time-organized information structures, as well as non-linear ones.”

Is the future of print media on the Tablet simply glorified PDFs with Facebook Connect integration? The Mag+ demo is easily the most impressive, and perhaps the most likely of the three design schemes to succeed. It does, what I believe, the most efficient job of marrying an old stodgy medium with the web-influenced nature of today’s consumer.

I think the key to the Tablet’s success isn’t in what it can do, it’s in what it can deliver. Apple holds a house full of multitouch patents. And apparently we’ll be “very surprised how you interact with the new tablet,” according to a New York Times blog post. So, I don’t doubt that it’ll be fun to use. The question is what it will be used for. And I think that’s where distribution becomes the X-factor in this whole thing.

If the Tablet can deliver Mag+ level interactivity to all of our favorite magazines, newspapers, textbookscomic books, and shopping catalogs (this IKEA demo is a must-see), and establish a streamlined distribution channel (probably through iTunes), then the future of print media is locked. With the proper content publishers on board, a new way of interacting with content that reinvents the way we thought about print, and an easy and especially cheap way of getting that content into your hands, you’re looking at a fundamental shift in the print publishing business.

Add to all of this, the developing rumors of an iTunes subscription service for television content, and access to the iTunes App Store, and you have a perfect storm for the future of multimedia on-the-go. Anyone can create an awesome device chock full of features (albeit, it may not look as attractive). But the content distribution infrastructure that Apple has worked meticulously on for nearly a decade has put them in a position that no other device maker can compete with; not even Microsoft.

I don’t believe this was all a serendipitous mistake. I believe Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple have been planning this coup d’état of our multimedia content for a long time coming; slowly and very cautiously putting the right pieces in place to checkmate its competitors into submission.

Apple has become the Walmart of digital content, with the Tablet potentially acting as the first missing link between the physical world, and the digital content we love. And now that Jobs is satisfied, the only thing that could could kill this idea is exorbitantly expensive cellular service by a greedy mobile carrier, severely limiting its consumer adoption appeal.

Nonetheless, naysayers who wish to cling to their tired old ways, just may find themselves digging an early grave…if they haven’t already.

Hurrah, Hurrah! Print is dead.

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